Council Tries to Prevent Katrina-Like Debacles As Sandy Victims Raise Homes
CITY HALL — The City Council wants to help homeowners rebuilding post-Sandy with new regulations for homes on stilts.
Staten Island City Councilmen Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo took a trip to New Orleans in late January to try to learn from the city's recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina, and said they were shocked to learn about some of the problems homeowners faced as they tried to raise their homes on pillars to prevent damage from future floods.
"Some of them collapsed, some of them never were be able to be lived in again," Ignizio said of the homes he saw on the trip. "We need to learn from the disaster that occurred in New Orleans."
The region faced at least two reported fatalities in elevation-related collapses, in addition to a flood of complaints about shoddy work, including one home, Oddo said, where an unscrupulous contractor took off without bothering to build a staircase so that owners could access their home after it was raised.
Oddo snapped a picture of the home, which remains stair-less nearly 8 years after Katrina.
"Time and again we were warned by various officials about the mistakes made in elevating homes.... Opportunists come out in these tragedies," he said.
To prevent similar problems, Oddo and Ignizio joined City Council Speaker Christine Quinn Wednesday to unveil new legislation designed to protect homeowners, including a bill that will force contractors to give the Department of Buildings at least 48-hours' notice before they begin elevating a home, so inspectors can be dispatched to monitor the work.
Another rule will force the elevation work to be done under the supervision of an approved architect or engineer.
The rules will also require the Department of Consumer Affairs to launch an education campaign about the types of licenses and permits that home contractors need to do elevation work, which typically costs between $35,000 and $70,000, the members said.
"Elevating a home is not simply lifting a house off the ground and putting it on stilts. It's a complex process and proper measures have to be taken before and after the work," Quinn said.
Approximately 100,000 homes across the city were damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and more than 2,000 were destroyed.
It's too soon to say how many homeowners will choose to elevate their homes, said Quinn, who explained that it will be up to homeowners to decide whether they want to elevate their homes or pay more in flood insurance rates.
Officials believe much of the cost of putting homes on stilts will eventually be covered by federal grant money as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helped compensate homeowners after Katrina.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed an executive order last month altering zoning rules to allow owners to elevate their homes above current height limits to get them out of harm's way.
"We look forward to learning the details of the proposed legislation and working with the Speaker and the entire Council in our continued efforts to help those impacted by Sandy make a speedy recovery," a spokeswoman for the mayor said in a statement.
The new legislation will be formally introduced in the council next week.